On one of our last Brazilian jungle walks, (a staple excursion of every mission trip we take there), our guide introduced us to Apui, “the tree killer.” And that’s exactly what Apui does: kill trees.
Apui isn’t a disease, an insect, an animal or a crazed Amazonian lumberjack. It’s a fruit-bearing vine. Bats and birds will eat the fruit and defecate the seeds into the top of trees. There they germinate and sprout serpentine vines that grow down and around the tree’s trunk. Once those vines reach the ground, they take root and begin to grow larger and just as hard as the tree itself! In 20 or 30 years, the tree killer tentacles will have strangled out the host tree completely. In fact, you might not even be able to see the host tree inside the solid, immense vines.
I think about Apui sometimes when I watch children at play. We all are born into such sweet innocence. But inevitably, the world intrudes. Sometimes that intrusion is a collision. More often it is a slow growing vine. Seeds of destruction are planted and, if they find root, can engulf the soul. The beautiful person God conceived is lost, suffocated in a tangled morass of undermining influences and poor choices.
Fortunately, God is Lord of our jungles. He is able to peel away the choking layers of misguided self-interest and self-indulgence and breathe new life into our inner deadness. He may choose to kill the vines but leave some of them standing. The very tentacles that enslave and disfigure us can also be transformed into something useful…even majestic. Seeing your redeemed Apui may be just the thing that helps me believe that God can make something beautiful of my own!
The jungles of our lives can be frightening places and we often avoid them (or imagine that we can) at all costs. We choose the mild over the wild, as if God is pleased with caution. The confines of home and church offer illusions of safety, but can just as easily become spiritual tombs…death by insulation! And though we prefer to relate to a sophisticated God as if He were a fine meal to be consumed – Deity under glass – the reality is that He is more of a sweaty jungle-dweller. Look for Him less in the pulpit and more under the bridge…less at your Bible study groups and more in your ghettos. Though its vines may reach out and trip us up on occasion, we must make the uncomfortable jungle walk if we want to encounter the Living God.
JMI is planning “jungle walks” right now through South Africa, Brazil, Moldova, India and possibly Kenya. Let us know if you’re interested!